There's one final challenge to North Carolina's photo ID voting law. The federal trial begins Monday

For more than a decade, North Carolina politics has revolved around the question of whether it is constitutional to require voters to show a photo ID before voting.

This Monday in Winston-Salem, a federal judge will hear arguments in one of the latest legal challenges to the photo ID requirement — and decide whether it constitutes discrimination against minority voters.

The NAACP is suing to block the requirement. Kat Roblez is an attorney with Forward Justice and is representing the group at next week's trial.

“We allege that there was discriminatory intent in the passage of this law,” Roblez said. “And I think we see the downside in that a lot of people’s votes didn’t count.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly put photo ID on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in 2018. Voters easily approved the proposal, with 55% supporting it.

The March primary was the first statewide election since the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in early 2030 that photo ID was constitutional.

WFAE took a close look at the impact of photo ID in the March election.

First of all, 1.8 million people voted. Of those, 473 people's ballots were not counted because they did not have photo ID. This means that the law had no impact on 99.97% of voters, or that 1 in 3,805 voters did not have their ballot counted.

Andy Jackson of the conservative John Locke Foundation said it was highly unlikely that photo ID would affect the outcome of a statewide election – even one as close as the 2020 state Supreme Court race, in which Republican Paul Newby defeated Democrat Defeated Cheri Beasley by less than 500 votes.

“Would that have made a difference of 401 votes? Probably not,” he said.

The March 5 primary election was the first statewide test of North Carolina's voter ID law. For 473 of the 1.8 million voters, their ballot was not counted due to a photo ID.

But Roblez said the impact could be greater in November.

She noted that voters who come to a primary election tend to be the most engaged and may be more aware of the need for photo ID. If voter turnout in the presidential election is three times higher, fewer regular voters without ID may show up.

“I also think we can't really quantify the number of people who didn't show up because they got the message that you need ID to vote and they didn't have one,” she said.

Defining inequality

The crux of the NAACP case is that photo ID has a disproportionate impact on minority voters. That's the conclusion of previous court rulings that blocked voter identification requirements.

WFAE analyzed the 473 voters whose ballots were rejected in March and found that Democratic voters and Black voters were slightly more likely to have their ballots rejected.

There were at least 298 white voters whose ballots did not count and 74 black voters whose ballots were rejected.

That means one in every 4,700 white voters couldn't cast their vote because they didn't have a photo ID, compared to one in every 3,600 black voters.

This is an inequality. But how significant is this when you consider that the number of voters actually affected is very small?

For example, if the ballots of 17 more black voters across the state had been counted, the inequality would have disappeared.

Due to a partisan collapse, Republicans had one rejected ballot for every 4,100 GOP voters who went to the polls. Among Democrats, there was one rejected ballot for every 3,200 Democratic voters

Roblez said one disenfranchised person is too much.

“I think it's dangerous to say that there are a number of votes that can't be counted and that simply don't matter,” she said.

She said it's particularly problematic because there's no evidence that impersonation of in-person voters is a problem. An audit of the 2016 election by the state Board of Elections found only two cases in which voters pretended to be someone else.

“There is no real justification or evidence that this law is necessary,” she said. “What are the advantages and what are the disadvantages of this?”

Republicans said photo ID was popular and that a 2018 vote to add it to the state constitution passed with 55% of the vote.

Jackson notes that the modern Republican Party has changed under former President Donald Trump. High voter turnout helped the GOP in 2020.

“In the Trump era, there were demographic changes within the party,” he said. “Republicans assumed that (low-propensity voters) were Democrats. But if you look at the provisional ballots, which are an indicator of voters who have a problem with the system for one reason or another, Trump won the provisional ballots in 2020.”

One reason fewer than 500 people have had their ballots rejected is because voters can fill out a photo ID exemption form. The form allows them to check several boxes that give them a reason for not having photo ID, such as: B. because they didn't have transportation to get an ID card or because they simply lost it.

In the primary election, most people without ID filled out this form, and about 90% had their provisional ballots counted.

Voters could also cast a provisional ballot and then return to their county board of elections and show photo ID. Most did not and their ballots were rejected.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs is hearing the case. The North Carolina Attorney General's Office defends the North Carolina Board of Elections.

Anna Harden

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